There is a principle in exercise science called "SAID," which stands for "specific adaptations to imposed demands." Basically, it means that your body will eventually adapt to the demands you place upon it. So if you exercise regularly, you must constantly alter your routine in some way in order to continue to get results, or to get off a weight-loss plateau.
The nice part about changing up your workouts is that not only does it keep your body guessing, but it also keeps your brain guessing, which can help keep workouts from getting ho-hum or boring, and keep you from losing your exercise motivation!
So here are 10 ways to vary your workouts and keep you body from adapting!
#1 Switch Positions
If you usually sit while doing an exercise, try standing! For example, a seated shoulder press or seated machine shoulder press can easily be done in a standing position by grabbing a set of dumbbells instead. If you're already doing the dumbbell version, then balance on one leg while you press overhead. Or do a squat before you press. You can even get one of those fancy balance devices like a Bosu ball or an air pillow and balance on that with one leg or two legs while you press.
#2 Change Your Grip
For example, triceps pushdowns, an exercise for the back of your arms, are traditionally done with cable resistance that you pull against while gripping a thick rope with wooden or plastic knobs. But instead of a rope, you could also use a straight bar or a curling bar for your pushdowns. Or you could use a thumbs-off rather than thumbs-on grip to work different muscles. You can even combine this with switching positions, and kneel on a Bosu ball or get into a lunging position on the ground.
#3 Change Your Time
Your body can actually grow accustomed to exercising at a specific time of day, and if you have the time flexibility, you can throw yourself a metabolic curveball by switching things up. So if you're used to late afternoon or evening exercise, switch to the morning, or vice versa. This can also keep you from getting bored with the same old routine, since switching up your time of day also means you may see new people, sights, and sounds as you're exercising. I recently switched from swimming in the early evening to swimming in the early morning, and that simple change-up has made my swims different and given my days a fresh start.
#4 Change Your Speed
If you usually do push-ups at regular speed, you can try super slow push-ups instead, with a four-count down and a four-count up. Or, you can do your push-ups very fast, lowering down and pushing up as fast as possible. Alternatively, you could lower slowly and push-up fast. If you're an advanced exerciser, try explosive push-ups (clap between each push-up).
#5 Use Different Equipment
If you usually lift with barbells or dumbbells, then try machines. If you're accustomed to both, try elastic bands or cables. Or if you're more advanced, you may want to consider using other creative forms of resistance, such as kettlebells, sandbags, water jugs, chains, or heavy elastic bands.
#6 Change Your Order
If you usually sequence cardio before you do weights, then try reversing that pattern. Unless you're a strict weight-lifter or marathon devotee, this change in order won't affect you negatively. If you usually do cardio on a different day than weights, try doing cardio and weights on the same day, and then inject something new, like yoga or Pilates on your off-day. You can also change the order in which you do your exercises. For example, if you typically perform a full body workout that starts with upper body, then lower body, then core, you can instead begin doing lower body first, then core, then upper body.
#7 Change Your Rest Length
If you usually do a circuit with minimal rest intervals, then you're maximizing your time in the gym. But if you rest longer, you'll find that you can lift heavier weights, or do more complex exercises, since you're not quite as exhausted during the exercises. Or if you usually sit for long periods of time between your exercises, then try including rope jumping or jumping jacks into your rest periods. Finally, if you normally do exercises one by one, you can instead try a circuit, in which you string all your exercises together in one long set, and then when you get to the end of the circuit, repeat for multiple rounds!
#8 Experiment With Diet
Your body will usually burn what's available during a workout, so if you're used to eating breakfast before a morning exercise routine, you can instead try eating breakfast after and working out on an empty stomach so that you force your body to rely on storage energy for fuel. Or, if you typically avoid eating before a workout or always do fasted workouts, you can try fueling your body with an easy-to-digest fuel, like fruit, potato, or a smoothie before you begin -- and you may discover newfound energy and intensity.
#9 Slow Down
If you're one of those individuals who always has to work extremely hard during a workout, you may find it stress-relieving to try something less hard, like an easy Yoga class or a light bike ride or hike on a nature trail. By replacing some of your hard workouts with easy ones, it may leave you feeling more rested and refreshed - and keep you from developing chronic stress or injuries from overtraining.
#10 Try a New Class
Recently, I took a "Performance Pump" class, which had me running all over the place doing lunges, planks, hops, steps, and push-up variations that I'd never performed before, and in an order and at a tempo that I wasn't used to. Even though I'm in good shape, I was sore for days and got a big fitness boost because I exposed myself to some new movement patterns that I wouldn't have thought of on my own. I also recently tried a kickboxing class, a few Bikram yoga classes, a core camp, and some TRX. By throwing these new routines in on a regular basis, I can keep my body and brain guessing. So if you have access to a health club or gym, then try some new classes.
If you have more ideas about good ways to keep your workouts exciting and keep you from getting bored with the same old exercise routine, leave your comment below!
Ben Greenfield is a fitness and triathlon expert and host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast on the Quick and Dirty Tips network. His book, "Get-Fit Guy's Guide to Achieving Your Ideal Body -- A Workout Plan for Your Unique Shape," will be published by St. Martin's Press on May 8, 2012.
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